Incorporation of Practical Measures to Assist Conservation of Biodiversity Within Sustainable Beef Production in Northern Australia

Edited by Sue McIntyre, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems
Jointly funded by MLA, CSIRO and Environment Australia, October 2001
ISBN 1 74036 189 X

Conclusions and Recommendations

  1. Native pastures have provided the production base for viable beef enterprises over a long period and will continue to do so. While production peaks are lower relative to sown pastures, they have proven to be a stable source of production that is resistant to the vagaries of climate and degradation. Maintaining native pastures has been shown in our research to be compatible with a high level of native plant diversity and underpins ecologically sustainable management of grazed woodlands. In the light of this knowledge, we recommend that new or proposed technologies that may be associated with the expansion of areas of intensively used land be reviewed in relation to their impact on natural resources.
  2. The landscape management principles developed and the thresholds identified form a basis for the development of an Environmental Management System for the beef industry. Our principles as they are expressed are most relevant for tropical and temperate grassy woodland landscapes with some areas of cropping or improved pastures. Where the main vegetation type differs, and/or intensive land use is either absent or widespread, the wording of the principles would need to be adapted, although most of the principles and associated thresholds are still of general relevance.
  3. Our project has only started to address the science behind landscape planning which we have advanced by synthesizing existing information. Continued learning through scientific observations of landscape function is important. Our work has structured current knowledge so as to identify some important questions that require research viz:
    1. What are the limits to intensive land uses at the landscape scale in terms of vegetation health and the condition of riparian zones?
    2. What ecological attributes are maintained by providing riparian vegetation of different widths and different combinations of structural attributes (e.g. grazed sward, ungrazed sward, shrubs, trees)?
    3. What birds and mammals are adversely affected by different levels of vegetation clearing in the landscape?
    4. What are appropriate spatial scales to apply the different land-use thresholds (property, sub-catchment, catchment)?
  4. The financial and practical barriers to adoption of ecologically sustainable management need to be further explored in terms of:
    1. Defining the duty of care of producers, which involves determining the limits of private responsibility for natural resource management, and the point at which it is replaced by public responsibility.
    2. Cost-sharing arrangements fas a way of balancing private and public contribution to the cost of achieving sustainability.
    3. Applying improved understanding to further refine the boundaries of the thresholds, how they vary, and what are the trade offs under different levels of management. This will provide a more accurate assessment of landscape and a way of better identifying acceptable solutions.
    4. Continued exploration of the practical issues of applying the principles and providing opportunities for producers to identify their own practical solutions.
    5. The availability of technical support for farm planning and decision making. Salinity hazard mapping, soil maps, topographical maps and vegetation maps are examples of information that is required at specific scales, which may not be accessible.
  5. It is important to acknowledge that addressing biodiversity and natural resource issues is a long-term activity, and in northern Australia, the dialogue has only just commenced:
    1. Although there may be similar use of the language, the concepts of sustainability and biodiversity conservation often vary greatly between stakeholder groups. We should be aiming for a more seamless use of concepts as an indicator of improved communication.
    2. Producers need to be provided with the relevant technical understanding to make informed decisions about natural resource management. An example is the recognition of tree regeneration potential as an ecosystem service, that can be a cost to maintain, but which producers need to weigh against future permanent losses of biodiversity and high tree planting costs.
    3. Defining duty of care is a legal decision, that is only informed by technical information, not determined by it.
  6. We note the importance of scientific publication as a means of making project outputs accessible, credible and durable. Peer-reviewed publications need to be fostered as a reliable way of adding to the industry's technical intellectual capital in the long-term. They provide a firm technical footing from which other communication outputs can be sourced.